The Various Countries - A Rant About Country Music

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It is no secret that over the past couple decades country music has struggled with it's identity far more than any other genre in the industry. At this point nobody can really claim to be a country music fan without being questioned what kind of country fan? The answers being seemingly endless, I've broken them down into a few main categories (but really, there could be so many more).

Pop Country

This category could really be referred to as "Nashville Country." It hosts probably about 90% of the country music out there. I often find people not wanting to admit in conversation that they're fans of this category. They like to talk about how they love Willie Nelson and mouth the words to Merle Haggard songs even though it's obvious their faking it. Then they get alone in their cars and unwind by driving down the highway, blasting Shania Twain on the radio, and singing along at the top of their lungs. Let me just say, there's nothing wrong with that, like what you like. Nashville record labels pick very talented, often attractive singers that perform with some great bands. They also have some of the top songwriters and composers in the industry working for them.

One criticism I would have against this category?In recent years, there has been a rebellion of sorts against Nashville music from musicians in both the Rebel and Texas sub categories (see below) with songs booing Nashville and praising the old timers. Sometimes this gains them popularity and they get so popular that they land a big contract with a Nashville record company and for some reason everybody is perfectly comfortable with this phenomenon. This is what I like to refer to as "Pat Green Syndrome".

Rebel/Rock Country

Very liberal people are who you tend to find in this category. These artist just do whatever they feel like doing, and consequently there are not many of them, or at least not many of them that stay popular after their initial shock value wears off. They are usually independent and like letting it all hang out. A good example currently in the limelight is Gretchen Wilson. Others that haven't quite reached her popularity level, but have been around for a while include Ray Wylie Hubbard and Todd Snider.

Sometimes the guys in this category derive quite a bit of their rebelness from incorporating rock into their music. Good examples of this are Robert Earl Keen and James McMurty (I highly recommend both of them).

Texas Country

This category has developed into somewhat of a music cult, and it stretches all over the United Sates. (Note, this last month there was a huge three day Texas music festival in Colorado). It's popularity started off with the likes of Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Gary P. Nunn. What really sent it off in recent years was the popularity of Robert Earl Keen, Cory Morrow, Pat Green, and Jack Ingram. It plays extremely well in frat houses across the Lone Star State. While the guys mentioned earlier have taken off in a different direction, new artists like Max Stalling, Mark David Manders, and Ed Burleson have started to take their place. If you ever watch this development, it's easy to see that the Texas music industry is growing so fast that it will probably soon be just as big as Nashville's.

Old Country

If you can sing the words to three or more Willie Nelson, George Jones, and Johnny Cash songs please come in. If you can sing along to Patsy Cline, Charlie Rich, and Hank Williams please take a seat. If you can croon all night with Bob Wills please let me get you a beer, I'm glad we met. Welcome to the old country category, sadly a lot of people find it boring here.

Real Old Country

Most people in this category know how to yodel. They've probably witnessed someone play the bones, if they do not already know how to play them themselves. The people in this category refer to each other as "folks" and recognize that country's roots derived from folk music. This category requires being able to enjoy sitting on a front porch sipping ice tea in the middle of the summer while some old man plays "Streets of Laredo" on an old Gibson. Indulging in campfire banjo playing helps as well.

If you're like me, you probably have your favorite category and then like some things out of each one. There's not really any one way to define country music, and with it being an ever-changing industry there probably never will be. One thing that doesn't change though, no matter which category, you can still dust of your boots and take just about any country song to the dancehall with you.

Sarah Francis

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